Provo art show highlights intersection between Latter-day Saint faith, OCD
With a deep look inward, each artist projected — outward — their experiences. And judging by the line extending out the door of Writ & Vision on Friday, the work resonated with the community.
On Friday, the rare book store on Provo’s Center Street helped open a new art show by the ARCH-HIVE, focused on religious obsessive-compulsive disorder, titled “I Am Bound Upon a Wheel of Fire.”
The goal, according to curator Camilla Stark, is to teach people about obsessive-compulsive disorder and how it ties into her faith “by preaching extreme messages of perfectionism and extreme purity.”
Specifically, the show is focused on scrupulosity, also called religious OCD. Still an active member in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Stark described how parts of her faith tied into her OCD.
“One thing that was really hard for me was this idea of following promptings. I was told growing up that if you have a thought that pops in your head, that’s not from you, and it won’t go away. That means it’s a prompting, but that’s also like the definition of obsessive compulsive thoughts — is like, your brain just like pops a thought in your head and it won’t go away,” Stark said.
That’s why, when she helped plan the show along with Charlotte Condie and Kurt Anderson, they sought out artists with LDS ties and OCD, preferably but not limited to those with scrupulosity, which Stark called a “very specific Venn diagram.”
Stark is clear too, she doesn’t blame anyone for her development of OCD, acknowledging its genetic roots, but said many people with scrupulosity step away from their faith because “it is incredibly painful.”
Condie, who flew in from Georgia for the show, grew up in the Latter-day Saint faith and is “technically” an active member.
She explained that she still shows up and is “in the nursery,” but also attends Episcopal Eucharist. Condie added that she had experienced a variety of religions for her whole life, having also earned her degree in Asian studies, learning the facets of Buddhism and Hinduism.
“They also played a big role in helping me, not recover or heal, because I will never be rid of this, but find a way to live with it,” Condie said in an interview with the Daily Herald. “I think there’s multitudes of valid ways to find God. I think they’re all worth pursuing and they’re valid and they’re also personal and independent.”
Condie had several pieces in the show, all of which were done by taking apart a copy of “Mormon Doctrine” that had been sitting in her basement. The pieces, three of which are traditional collage-style pieces in addition to paper sculpture work, each carry their own methodology and reasoning.
In the description for “A Found (Dis)Comfort,” Condie represented coming to a sense of peace amid chaos. The sculpture “Do You Consider Yourself Worthy” tackles feelings of perfectionism and self-hate, among others. Her usage of “Mormon Doctrine” was also purposeful.
“Even though it’s out of print, it’s not sold anymore, it still looms so large in our culture that it’s hard to escape,” Condie said.
Art at the show was expressed in a variety of mediums including sculpture, paintings, interactive exhibits, oil paintings, digital printouts, watercolors, poetry and more. After going through artists’ submissions, Stark said there was a greater focus on making sure submissions fit the show’s themes rather than be done with the same medium.
While there are dozens of pieces on display, each one comes with its own style and meaning. The works range from “The Light that is in Their Eyes,” an oil painting on crafted panel by Hayley Labrum Morrison that was partially inspired by a conference talk from James Faust, to “authentic mark hofmann forgery” which is an oral premium graphic vinyl by Super Matt III — according to the work’s accompanying description — which styles and reworks photos of Mark Hofmann, the well-known counterfeiter of Latter-day Saint documents.
Nontraditional art styles are, mostly, centered in the corner of the exhibit room with the “Bible Transcription Journals,” where artist Emily Vogel hand-copied several complete Biblical books, and “Intrusive Thoughts Simulator,” a collaborative piece through which patrons put on a pair of headphones and “get a taste of real intrusive thoughts submitted by many of he artists & poets (whose) work is displayed in this gallery,” reads the description.
Stark said she has been creating her art her whole life as a way to express herself. After taking time away from art while in college, she jumped back into the creative world after graduating. She explained that being able to “get my feelings out on paper” was important for her to process the changes in life.
She had not, for most of her life, considered depicting “church stuff” because of the prevalence of church art being hyper-realistic oil paintings.
After seeing digital collages depicting Latter-day Saint imagery on Instagram — from Laz, her now-partner in the ARCH-HIVE — Stark saw a way to connect her spiritual and artistic journeys. She said the imagery was done “not in an irreverent way necessarily, but not in the verified holiest, you know, oil painting-type way.”
Sure to give credit to artists who focus on hyper-realistic oil paintings, it just wasn’t what Stark wanted to do. She said that her artwork is now the primary way she processes and explores spirituality and, as for what feelings people take away from her art, Stark believes that’s not up to her.
“While I’m making it, it belongs to me and it’s what I need to say. But once I share it, it’s what other people need to get out of it,” Stark said.
With art, Stark said she feels “compelled” to share — a very different feeling from the obsessive-compulsive disorder at the center of the show.
“I love to share my artwork. And with OCD, it’s all based on fear, not love,” she said.
There was also value, for the artists and curators in having the show in Provo — home to Brigham Young University and a population that’s 93.2% members of the church, according to the 2020 U.S. Religious Census.
“I know that the church has a very curated way of telling their story, and that’s fine. That’s their prerogative. However, I feel like … every member that exists is experiencing this religion in a different way. And so we have to give space to those voices, and we have to let them tell their story,” Condie said.
Stark moved to Provo for college, graduating from BYU with a degree in industrial design, and sees a bright future for the arts scene in the city.
“Our local artistic and cultural community is small enough that I can make an impact, which is awesome, and really get involved, but big and robust enough that there’s always something new and interesting going on and new people to meet and new projects to find out about,” Stark said.
For the show’s opening, it was a constant stream of guests with a line extending from the store’s back room, where the show was held, through the building and into the street.
Jessie Merck was one of the show’s opening-night viewers. He called the experience “eye opening” with praise for how different people shared their experience’s with OCD.
“It’s cool to see how other people have overcome it or not overcome it and cope with it,” he said. “It’s the exposure to diversity — everyone should just take some time to have that in their lives.”
Going forward, Stark’s goal for people after viewing the show is straightforward, even if simpler said than done. “My whole goal for this show is to share how some people’s brains work in the church,” she said. “I want people to be able to recognize if they or a loved one begins exhibiting symptoms of OCD, because it takes an average of 10 to 15 years for people with OCD to get diagnosed.”
Going forward, she also encourages people to be aware of OCD symptoms and find a qualified therapist if they need one.
“You’re not alone. There’s so many of us and I can’t even — I seriously had no idea there were this many because I used to not be open about it. But now I am and I’ve met a lot of people who are in similar places to me and it’s been really healing to meet them.”
The exhibit can be found at Writ & Vision, 274 W. Center St. in Provo, until Dec. 22. Several of the pieces, if marked as such, are also available for sale.